At one point in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch lectures his son Jem about courage after forcing him to care for an aging woman who is struggling to beat drug addiction.
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
That is the courage of the Ukrainian people, despite the cries of the far-right in the United States – some of whom are the very same people who ban books like “To Kill A Mockingbird” – or who have decided to praise Vladimir Putin and Russia.
While historians are comparing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to the Nazi’s land grab in Czechoslovakia in 1939, and some U.S. politicians are doing their best to play this generation’s Neville Chamberlain, others are not going gentle into that good night.
Donald Trump has praised Putin’s “genius” for an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and some Republican lawmakers have nodded in agreement. Meanwhile, even those who do not like our President, Joe Biden, say they are impressed with Biden’s advanced knowledge of how the invasion of Ukraine would play out.
For weeks, Biden has shared as many facts as possible about what the U.S. intelligence community has gathered on Putin’s chosen war. It has been eerily accurate and has dispelled most of the rhetoric and propaganda Putin tried to establish as a pretext for invasion.
That has had two effects: First, it has firmly established the truth about this conflict, which Biden spelled out in a speech from the East Room of the White House Thursday afternoon: “Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war.”
Biden also pointed out, “We’ve been transparent with the world. We’ve shared declassified evidence about Russia’s plans and cyberattacks and false pretexts so that there can be no confusion or cover-up about what Putin was doing.”
And that is the second effect: Putin’s probably very unhappy with the extent of knowledge the U.S. and, consequently, the world has about his operations. The former KGB officer has to be fuming. Despite all of his pretense of cloak and dagger, he cannot hide much from the rest of the world – and worse for him – nobody of consequence believes him.
But the world is believing U.S. intelligence and Biden – and that leads to the most frightening revelation of all. The comparison to Hitler at the beginning of World War II may be far more accurate than some can wrap their minds around. And if Biden’s past ability to predict Putin’s moves remains solid, it’s downright frightening.
For years, Putin has expressed a desire for revenge against the West for the end of the Cold War, and Biden spelled it out in blunt terms Thursday: “He has much larger ambitions in Ukraine. He wants to, in fact, reestablish the former Soviet Union. That’s what this is about.”
Trying hard not to replicate the failure of Europe to meet the German hegemony at the beginning of World War II, 27 members of the European Union, including “France, Germany Italy – as well as the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and many others,” according to Biden, have signed on to sanctions that target specific choke points that the allies hope will cause Putin to blink and stand down.
Biden also said while in the East Room fielding questions from reporters that he thinks it will take about a month to see if sanctions imposed this week will have any effect on Russia.
Biden was also concerned about Russia’s continued hegemony and the dark precipice upon which the human race now sits. “As I made crystal clear, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power. And the good news is: NATO is more united and more determined than ever.”
Despite former President Trump’s attempt to dismantle NATO, Putin faces a united NATO, which should give him pause. But Biden is also acknowledging we’re at the brink. “Over the past few weeks, I ordered thousands of additional forces to Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO. On Tuesday, in response to Russia’s aggressive action, including its troop presence in Belarus and the Black Sea, I’ve authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern flank Allies: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania,” the President told us.
And he finished with these chilling words, “This is a dangerous moment for all of Europe, for the freedom around the world. Putin has committed an assault on the very principles that uphold global peace.”
Will the sanctions, which target Russian oligarchs, Russian banks, and high-tech industries, keep the peace? Can the United States and its allies steer the world away from another World War – one that could render humanity extinct? Those are the questions that Biden has wrestled with during the last few months.
It’s a game of politics to Trump and his minions who continue to praise Putin and side against their own country and the rest of the world as a mad man takes us as close to the edge as anyone has in my lifetime.
National Economic Council (NEC) Director, Daleep Singh, who showed up in the briefing room Thursday, took my question about how long it will be before we see from Putin whether or not the sanctions are having an effect on his actions. The President said earlier that we should see where we are in about a month.
Singh told us it would take time but, “Already, we’re seeing the effects of these measures,” he said. The Ruble is down, the Russian economy and banking industries have been hit hard. Singh said the U.S. and its allies will remain strong and try to strangle the Russian ability to make war. “We understand that these costs will accumulate over time,” he told me.
“Now, it’s going to be up to President Putin to decide, ultimately, how much cost he’s willing to bear. What we control is to make sure this will be a strategic failure – not just because of the sanctions but also because of the export controls; because of Europe’s accelerated diversification away from Russia, in terms of its energy supply; due to our fortification of NATO’s eastern flank; and due to the renewed energy and unity and determination by the West to stand up for our values and advance our principles,” Singh explained.
Later in the same briefing, Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed my question about Putin’s long-range goals. Did the President really believe Putin’s ultimate desire is to reestablish the Soviet Union? If so, I asked if the invasion of Ukraine is “act one in a multiple-country invasion?”
Psaki couldn’t say. “I’m not going to make a prediction of that, but we certainly think he has grander ambitions than Ukraine,” she explained.
Hitler once told us, right before he invaded Czechoslovakia, that he had no grand designs for the rest of Europe. He just wanted to protect Germany. On Friday, Putin said he wanted to talk with Ukraine – and he had no desire for an expanded war.
Hitler lied. Putin lies. Prior to World War II, the world was set on appeasement. Putin, through manipulation, threats, and lies, has tried to engineer the world into appeasing him. It hasn’t worked. NATO and our allies have acted, thus far, in unison.
That has to be frustrating for Putin, especially since had Trump won re-election, Russia could’ve waltzed into Ukraine unopposed. But Putin’s miscalculation of the world’s reaction and the U.S. reaction to his unprovoked land grab also has unintentional consequences here in the U.S.
The far-right has tried to characterize Biden as both a warmonger and weak. In doing so, some have aligned themselves with Russia either by choice or by default. Some have been insipidly stupid – as Trump has been. Others have been torn between their isolationist leanings, like Marjorie Taylor Greene who once said, “Americans don’t want to be dragged into more never-ending foreign wars on another continent,” and now claims either Biden wanted it, couldn’t avoid it, must do it or is just senile (Take your pick. Her story changes as quickly as the days.).
Those who support Trump are coming to a cement wall. Long the party of “Our Country. Love it or Leave it,” and stalwart enemies of Russia, what’s left of the GOP is finding itself hoisted on its own petard as it sides with Putin.
But, internal politics aside, this is a dangerous time for Americans and the world.
Our intelligence gathering community has proven to be up to the task. There have been no surprises. So, Biden’s warning about Putin’s ultimate goals has to be taken seriously.
The chance for failure is huge, and the ultimate consequences could lead to the extinction of the human race. This is not a time for people such as Trump and his minions. This is no game.
This is survival and, so far, Biden’s taking steps that reflect that reality and his hopes of avoiding the pitfall of global annihilation.